The things that make culture vibrant

…on avoiding boredom, finding release and living in harmony

Halldóra Malin is an actress, singer, house painter and a mother. She lives in Seyðisfjörður (pop ca. 660) with her son, Stígur. She‘s a pioneer when it comes to developing theatre in Austurland and a proud inhabitant of Seyðisfjörður – the Cultural Capital of the East. 

I grew up in Egilsstaðir, Austurland, and I was an energetic child,“ says Halldóra, when asked about her past. To become a professional actress isn‘t, in any sense, “traditional” in Austurland: “I chose acting when I was very young, maybe four to five years old, but I was around 11 when I decided to become an actress. The main reason for my decision was that I couldn‘t really find anything else that I enjoyed more. I really don‘t want to spend my time doing things I find boring”!

“I needed a release for all my energy, so I joined the amateur theatre club, but later I went to the Iceland University of the Arts and finished a degree in acting. After graduation I did a lot of acting and directing, mostly for independent theatres, and for my own projects. I participated in plays that would not be considered ‘mainstream’, but rather ‘avant garde’, and I consider myself lucky in that respect.“

On Theatre in Austurland…

“While at Uni my friend and actor, Stebbi Ben, and I had the idea to start a thatre project in Austurland.  Stebbi, plus a friend of ours (Guðjón Sigvalda) and I were allowed to use the ‘Slaughterhouse’, the cultural center of Egilsstaðir – which was actually still being used to process meat – and had a pretty distinctive smell inside. However, it was a fantastic theatre and the possibilities were endless. In summer we put on shows for both children and adults, and in winter we went to Reykjavík for acting work.

I remember those years with a smile. We had so much fun doing it and it made me believe that theatre could work everywhere, because in the end you only need people with passion to run it. Soon a grassroots following will develop. This happens with all cultural work, but at later stages it also depends on how the community supports it, whether it can become something else rather than ‘just’ grassroots.

I was probably one of the first here in Austurland who studied acting at university level, but now there several dozen educated actors from Austurland that have studied in Reykjavík or abroad. It wouldn‘t suprise me if some of these people came back in a few year’s time to make something happen anew. But there again, acting is so much more than just doing professional shows. Lately I have been directing and teaching, which I find both meaningful and important.”

On Seyðisfjörður…

“I came here as a teenager with Stebbi Ben and together we helped establish the LungA Festival (along with other like minded people). I just seem to find my way back to Seyðisfjörður again and again!

There is something about this little brave and tight-knit community that I love. Creative people and entrepreneurs seem to like it here, and I think it is because of some offbeat understanding and broad-mindedness of how life should be. This means that all sorts of people live together in harmony in a happy little melding pot!

Why this is so in Seyðisfjörður and not anywhere else has something to do with the town‘s history. People care about the heritage, for instance, keeping old houses beautiful. Plus, artists have long resided here and made their work here. These things matter and make the cultural life vibrant. The people here are extraordinary when it comes to making art, and enjoying it. They show up in great numbers at art exhibitions as well as at football matches!“

Text: Jón Knútur Ásmundsson.

Photos: Kox.